Cult 80’s mad scientist sci-fi-horror-comedy based on the novella Herbert West–Reanimator by H. P. Lovecraft.
What self-respecting horror fan gets to middle age without seeing Re-Animator? This one, that’s who… well, not until this week when it was screened at the opening of the tenth Grimmfest, in honour of Barbara Crampton’s lifetime award in the horror genre.
I didn’t know much about the film before, except that it was about people being brought back to life, was directed by Stuart Gordon and starred Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton (amongst others). Oh, and its reputation for gore combined with fun. That sounded like Evil Dead (which I adore); but I couldn’t have guessed that Re-Animator had more gore, more fun and more nudity!
For those who don’t know, Re-Animator is about a young scientist who dreams of defeating death and has developed a serum to aid him. This is Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), and he seems to think he knows more about how the brain works than his tutors. These days, I’m sure his character would have been badly drawn as autistic; but in this 1985 film, he was simply nerdy and socially awkward. West takes lodging with Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and
persuades blackmails him into assisting with his basement experiments. Things get out of hand – of course! – due to interference from the Dean Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson) and senior lecturer Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). The poor sod who’s caught in the middle of all this is Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the Dean’s daughter, who is engaged to Cain, and who Hill is infatuated with.
So yes, Re-Animator is gory and fun; but the humour is not camp or daft. Rather, it seems that Gordon and his team are making the Lovecraft story their own and having a great time doing so. For the most part, the humour is not made of jokes per se, but rather how over-the-top the plot or action can get: West doesn’t just cut off a head, he brings the head back to life; the headless corpse doesn’t just carry on regardless, but tries to do one better; and so on…
There is some exploitation of course – naturally for both the 80s and the Lovecraft source – but it’s not painfully embarrassing; it’s simply part of the cultural background instead. And Crampton was not the only person who got naked in this film… just the only one who wasn’t a corpse first.
In the Q&A that took place after the screening on Grimmfest’s opening night, Barbara Crampton spoke about how, even after nearly 35 years, it still makes her so happy to see an audience enjoy Re-Animator. She spoke about how this was her first film role and how she never imagined she would become a “horror actor”: “I stepped away from the genre for a while but then came back a few years ago with You’re Next and now I say that if I only made horror movies for the rest of my life, I’d be very happy. I love the horror genre.”
The horror genre loves her too: she’s had little bit parts, serious roles, scream queen roles and everything in between. During my #100DaysOfHorror project this year, I’ve seen her in four films (so far) including this one: Puppetmaster, Castle Freak, and Replace. Barbara Crampton starred in one of my favourite home invasion films (You’re Next) and favourite haunted house film (We Are Still Here). I don’t think she’s aging, though… something to do with the serum?
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.